David Life and Sharon Gannon are the founders of Jivamukti Yoga. Here, in an excerpt from an interview (conducted by Ann Pizer for Yoga guide) with them, they address the importance of a vegetarian diet in the context of one’s practice of Yoga.
Yoga Guide: Do you consider vegetarianism to be an important part of a Yoga practice?
David: I consider vegetarianism as the traditional keystone to a yogic way of life. It is an action that can lead to liberation- the goal of Yoga . However, I consider veganism as the modern imperative, the translation, if you will, of the principles of non-violence into action in the modern time where the implications of violent living and animal industries are threatening the continued existence of the earth.
Sharon: Vegetarianism, real vegetarianism, which means, not eating animals and only eating vegetables [veganism] is the most important aspect of a Yoga practice. A vegan recognizes that animals do not belong to us — they are not ours to eat, to wear, to experiment on or to use for entertainment or any other exploitive purpose. Our present culture is based on the arrogant notion that the earth and all other life forms exist for our human benefit. The enslavement of other animals is considered normal in our culture.
The yogi who is seeking enlightenment knows that if they themselves want to be free, then they cannot cause the imprisonment, the enslavement of others. What does what you eat have to do with Yoga? Not everyone can stand on his or her head every day, but everyone eats. The goal of Yoga is enlightenment. What is realized in the enlightened state is the oneness of being; the interconnectedness of all of life.
Traditionally, a yogi was an environmentalist and animal rights activist. The lineage comes from Lord Shiva who was considered the protector of the earth and all life forms. One of his names is Pasupati, which means protector of the animals. A yogi is moving toward enlightenment through living harmoniously with all of life. In order to harm another you must objectify and separate yourself from that other. As you do that, you become disconnected to the whole.
Yoga is a holy connection, a realization of the interconnectedness of all of life. Through eating a vegan diet, you contribute to the happiness and well being of others, yourself and the planet.
Through making compassionate food choices, you will begin to experience a diminishing of selfishness and low self-esteem. You will feel more self-confident, as all the disease associated with harming others is lifted from your daily life. What we do to others will come back to us. If we want to be happy, then we should not cause others unhappiness. If we ourselves want to be free, then it seems to be we would not make a slave of anyone else.
Fundamental to the teachings of Yoga are the teachings of karma. Karma means action. The yogi begins to realize through the practice how significant each thought, word and action really is, and how it affects the whole community of life. How we treat others will determine our reality. A yogi practices Yoga to purify their karmas.
When we practice asanas, we come face-to-face with all of our past relationships in the form of unresolved karmic residue, which is actually what our bodies are made of. When you feel this through Yoga practice, you tend not to want to increase the karmic burden you are trying to unload. You don’t want to continue to cause harm to others, so you stop eating them and causing their enslavement and exploitation. You literally want to become lighter — more enlightened.
You begin to understand Patanjali’s sutra, Sthira Sukham Asana, which means that our connection (relationship) to the earth and all other beings (what the word asana means) should be mutually beneficial, should be coming from a consistent (Sthira) place of joy (Sukham).
Being a joyous vegan makes your life happier because you get to participate in increasing the happiness and well beings of others, rather than their suffering and death.
A vegan diet is not one of deprivation, it is really the only option available to those who want to be happy themselves and who want to contribute to the happiness of others and the future life of this planet. I consider myself a joyous vegan because I get to contribute to the enrichment of this planet instead of its demise. Not only am I not causing the degradation and death of farm animals, but I’m not causing so much water pollution, deforestation, wildlife habitant destruction, the sickness and death of wild animals, air pollution, or global warming.
The United Nations has issued a report stating that the waste emissions from animals raised for food contributes more to global warming than all the car and truck emissions in the world. That’s the real inconvenient truth.
About Sharon Gannon and David Life
Sharon Gannon and David Life are the founders of the Jivamukti Yoga School in New York City. There are now Jivamukti centers and teachers worldwide. This style, which blends vigorous vinyasa practice with spiritual teachings, chanting, and an emphasis on how to bring Yoga’s philosophy into daily life is at the forefront of Yoga’s current popularity. See also, Sharon’s book: Yoga and Vegetarianism.
Source: excerpt from a longer interview by Ann Pizer for yoga.about.com